Pi [50 New-Old Movies for the 51st Year #1]

Recently, I turned 50 years old!  And to add to all the real life goals and challenges that that brings, I’ve created at least one as it relates to movies and this blog–watch a film I’ve never seen before which cam out in each year of my life (thus the “Old-New” terminology), and then write a bit about it.  This is Post #1.  Spoilers ahead.  



Directed by Darren Aronofsky

Release Date:  July 10, 1998
My age then:  28 years old

What it is about:  Max Cohen is an unemployed number theorist and math genius who has built a super-computer in his dingy apartment in order to try to find order in the patterns around him, specifically in the stock market.  When Max’s work produces a bizarre string of apparently unrelated digits, it draws attention from a ruthless corporation, who believe his work is key to understanding market trends, and from radical Hasidic Jews, who believe the number is the name of God and will usher in a new Messianic age.  However, the truth may be that Max is mentally disturbed and that the whole situation may be an elaborate delusion.

Starring Sean Gullette as Max, plus Mark Margolis, Ben Shenkman, Samia Shoaib and Pamela Hart.

My impressions of this movie before I watched it:  I’d heard of Pi, but didn’t really know anything about it.  I think I used to confuse it with Primer, which came out six years earlier and doesn’t really have anything to do with it, except that it’s a debut low budget but well-regarded high concept film by a guy who is roughly my age.  Pi always seemed to be a bit of a challenging film to embark on for its style and subject matter.

Reality:  Well, with Pi, that’s a tough thing to talk about, as the movie is designed to leave you disturbed and uncertain about the reality of things.

That’s not to say the film is confusing–it’s quite straightforward about what is taking place at any given moment.  It’s just that a lot of those things are nightmarishly weird, and they are all told in an unsettling style, so one figures that they can’t be “literally happening.”  Unless the idea is that there really is supposed to be a disembodied brain at the bottom of that subway staircase which causes him to have debilitating headaches whenever he touches it.  I just assume not.

The story is about a man wrestling with an obsession to find a comprehensible pattern in the foundation of the universe.  Like all obsessions, this is self-destructive, but in the case of Max, the film strongly suggests that he is schizophrenic.  The whole movie is from his point of view, and each event is layered with abrupt editing, an isolating visual style, extreme sound design, and a legitimately jarring musical soundtrack (by Clint Mansell).  Add to that the movie’s actual look–high-contrast, black and white grainy visuals–and creepy imagery (extreme close ups of ants being crushed, bizarre goop stuck inside computers, etc), and the viewer can’t help but to get into Max’s head and feel paranoid.

The whole thing culminates with Max finally deciding to rid himself of the burden that he carries (because he apparently has found the number which reveals the secrets of hte universe)is by drilling a hole in his head.  The only thing that keeps it from being a horribly depressing is the fact that he seems to be alive and well at the end, but without his mathematical giftings…and thus happier.  In other words, the casually brutal self-surgery seems to have worked!  That is, if we can trust any of it at all.

So…when you get down to it, what did I think?  An interesting movie, to be sure.  Even, a film that I can respect.  But not one I unreservedly liked.  And probably not one I’d watch again.  Certainly, I’m hoping this is the most disturbing film I watch in this series of 50 Old-New Movies.

See here for the Master List.


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